Everyone knew about Geno’s wild magic: not the kind you could learn through a lifetime of careful study, but the kind that you were born with, innate as blood. You could see it on the ice sometimes when Geno really got going, a faint halo around his body, blue like midnight. Sid both loved and dreaded seeing it, because when Geno got angry he could single-handedly win a game, but he could also take a stupid fucking penalty and single-handedly lose.
For the first couple of years, Geno was solely Gonch’s responsibility, because nobody else could say the right things in a way he would understand. By the time Gonch left for Ottawa, the coaching staff had settled on a routine of reviewing footage before a game and chewing Geno out over his mistakes, sometimes paired with key clips of Don Cherry. A few careful insults during intermission were usually enough to carry Geno through to the end of the game.
Sid never got involved, even though captains were kind of expected to—encouraged, certainly. He knew it was pretty normal. Lots of guys with magic relied on anger to get charged up, or sex—or pain, in a few cases. But he couldn’t square it with himself: saying all those awful things to Geno just to get him to play a hair better, even if that was what Geno wanted. That wasn’t how Sid wanted to be a captain, or build a team.
He didn’t say much to Geno before games, but afterward, every time, no matter what, he stopped by Geno’s stall and said, “Good game, G.”
And every time, Geno looked up at him, with a smile if they had won or a somber expression if they had lost, and said, “Thanks, Sid.”
+ + +
Sid didn’t know what the difference was—maybe insults were more effective in Russian, or Geno took them differently coming from Gonch than from an assistant coach. But whatever it was, they muddled through for a few months, and then Geno’s knee took him out for the rest of the season and it stopped being a problem for a while.
Not that Sid could have done anything about it anyway. By that point, he was too busy lying very still in a dark room.
+ + +
All of the guys were happy to see him, and Geno most of all, when he came into the locker room at the rink and saw Sid at his stall, gearing up to skate. “Sid,” he said, and made a movement with his body like he was thinking about giving Sid a hug, sort of a forward motion with his arms lifting a little before they lowered again. Sid was sitting down; it wasn’t a good position for hugging.
“Hey, G,” Sid said, returning Geno’s goofy smile with one of his own. They had gotten closer last spring while they were recovering together. Sid had told Geno some things he didn’t usually talk about, and a few things he hadn’t told anyone else, and Geno had returned the favor, and Sid was—well, he was happy to see Geno again.
He still wasn’t taking contact, but he skated with the team and was happy to be out on the ice with the guys. He hung out after practice the way he usually did, lingering to do some extra drills and chat with a couple of the beat reporters and catch up with Stew, but even after all of that, Geno was waiting for him in the change room when he went in to shower. Mostly the rest of the guys had cleared out, although there was a pile of clothing at Joey V’s locker.
“Sid, I have favor,” Geno said, which was how he always said it, as familiar to Sid by now as his skating: the fewest possible words to convey what he meant. Sid always understood him.
Geno’s demeanor was serious: he wasn’t going to ask Sid which pair of sneakers he should buy. Sid took a seat beside him on the bench. “I’ll help if I can.”
Geno sighed heavily. “It’s magic, you know. I train with Gonch in Moscow, and we work—we try to figure. And we think it’s, like. I care what coach think, but only little, you know?”
Sid had to grin. That was sure true, especially when it came to Bylsma, who wanted to be everyone’s friend. “But you care a lot about what Gonch thinks of you.”
“Yes,” Geno said. He looked down at his lap, shy all of a sudden. “So maybe—if it’s okay, maybe you like Gonch for me now.”
Sid’s stomach did a happy flip-flop in his belly as the implications sunk in. Geno needed someone whose opinion he cared about, and of all the people in the organization, he was asking Sid.
“It’s okay if you don’t,” Geno said hastily. His cheeks were flushing a mottled red. “I just think—”
“I can’t say those things to you,” Sid said. “I’m sorry. I wish I could help. But I always think you’re the best. No matter what happens during the game, I think you’re—great.” He swallowed and looked away. “I don’t want to be mean to you.”
Geno didn’t say anything. Sid waited, his heart pounding. He had said too much, maybe: crossed the line they had approached a few times last spring and then both backed away from, through silent accord. But when he risked a glance, Geno was smiling a little.
“Sorry,” Sid said again, which was easier than any of the other things he wanted to say.
“It’s okay,” Geno said. He scooted closer and bumped their shoulders together. “Just think I ask.”
“We’ll figure something out,” Sid said, and Geno smiled at him like he actually believed it.
+ + +
It was bad for Geno, for one thing. He took each mistake hard and let those feelings linger, the way he always did, but Sid was paying more attention now, trying to help the team however he could off the ice, since he couldn’t help on it. He always tried to have a sense of how everyone was doing, and he talked to guys if they were struggling, but he had mostly trusted Geno to have his shit together, or at least trusted Gonch to keep Geno’s shit together for him. But it was pretty clear to him now, watching Geno skulk and glower, that Geno didn’t have his shit together at all.
Time and experience had helped Sid get better about leaving his emotions on the ice, but Geno didn’t have that detachment—maybe couldn’t. Sid had no magic of his own, and there were a lot of things he didn’t know about how it worked. People just didn’t talk about that stuff.
“Are the coaches being too mean?” Sid asked, after a captains’ meeting a couple of days after a blow-over, when Geno seemed to have cooled off enough to talk about it. “Too much Don Cherry?”
“Don Cherry,” Geno muttered darkly. He slumped down on the couch. They were in the lounge, just the two of them now, Bylsma and Brooksie and Staalsy having gone off already to change for practice. “No, it’s like—before games it’s fine. I feel ready. But then maybe someone say something to me during game, or I turn over puck, I don’t know, and then it’s like—I’m too angry, you know? I can’t keep inside.”
“What are they doing at intermission?” Sid asked. He sometimes went down to the locker room between periods, but sometimes he stayed up in the press box. He might have been missing something.
Geno shrugged. “Bylsma tell me I need step it up. I suck, play shitty hockey. Other team win, it’s my fault. You know.”
“What did Gonch used to say to you?” Sid asked.
“He tell me, you better than this,” Geno said. “Or if I play okay, he talk about other team, how they make plan, try show me they better, don’t let me score.”
Sid mulled that over for a few days. It sounded like Gonch had relied on Geno’s ego, the specific motivations that made Geno tick, instead of the blunt-force humiliation the coaching staff kept trying. But Bylsma wasn’t too open to input from Sid, and he had also promised himself long ago that he would stay out of it. Geno had asked for his help once and Sid had turned him down, and he hadn’t asked again. Sid didn’t want to interfere if it wasn’t at Geno’s request.
He thought about talking to one of the team’s other magicians: Flower, who like most goalies was full to the brim with magic like a pitcher of water, or Ashy, or TK, who had barely any magic at all but would still know how it worked. But he didn’t know what to ask, really, and Geno hated it when people talked about him behind his back. The whole thing was a problem for the coaching staff. Sid wouldn’t get involved.
+ + +
Sid didn’t travel with the team to Philly and New York, the first two games after he was out again, but he watched from home, and could see Geno’s blue magic flaring even on the TV. Geno scored two points in each of those games, lit up the way he had been all season. When he got home from that road trip, Sid took him out for lunch after practice, and after the usual perfunctory chit-chat he said, “They sure got you mad about something, eh?”
Geno leveled a look at him. “Mad about you, Sid.”
“Oh,” Sid said, shamefully pleased by this. “You are?”
“I win for you,” Geno said, unexpectedly fierce, an odd contrast with his floppy toque and the mayo smeared on his upper lip. “It’s your team, you can’t play, okay, I take care, keep team until you ready.”
“Oh, uh,” Sid said, feeling the earth tilt beneath him a little, because what was he supposed to think about Geno saying something like that to him? “Well, you’re doing a great job.” He was; even with all the blow-overs he was playing like—well, the best in the world. Sid was really proud of him. He didn’t say that part.
“You buy lunch, say thank you,” Geno said, and took a bite of his sandwich so big that a few onions squeezed out and slithered down onto his plate. Stepping them safely back from the line.
The Penguins went on a losing streak at the end of that month and into January, six dropped games in a row as Geno grew increasingly frustrated and silent in the locker room. Sid wasn’t surprised at all when he blew over on a road trip to Florida, a wild up-and-down game tied up in the third by three goals in a row from the Lightning, that Geno very clearly decided to win, and did, with a hat trick. He blew over after the second goal, during a scrum that started when Geno objected to a check from Lecavalier. Sid had traveled with the team, and he could see it happening from his seat in the press box, Geno’s magic flaring and jumping. It took hold of Lecavalier, and he sucker-punched Geno and got booted from the game. Geno crackled his way to the penalty box.
Geno was triumphant in the locker room after the game. He’d scored five points, and the mess of the third period didn’t bother him at all. “He’s try say shit to me, now he’s sorry,” Geno said, when Sid tried to talk to him about it. “Too bad.”
“You blew over,” Sid said, and Geno shrugged, like: so? Blue light was still crackling faintly along his hands and arms as he stripped off his pads. Sid gave up.
It started to happen again a few games later, when they played the Habs. Geno was getting everyone all worked up on the bench, his magic so bright he was glowing. Kuni fought Pacioretty only a few minutes into the first, and that set the tone for the rest of the period.
“G, you gotta calm down,” Sid muttered to himself, but Geno couldn’t hear him from where he was, so far away above the ice.
Geno got into a scuffle with Subban in the closing minutes of the period, stupid bullshit during a stoppage in play that didn’t lead to any penalties, but Sid got up as soon as the horn sounded and headed down to the locker room. This wasn’t going anywhere good.
By the time he made it down there, Geno was standing at his stall, scowling, yelling at Bylsma in Russian as he gestured wildly. Sid felt a sharp, sudden fury rising in his own chest. The coaching staff had been fumbling this for months, letting Geno suffer, and Geno was too proud and too stubborn to admit that it wasn’t working. And Sid had failed him by being too cowardly to do what was needed, even after Geno had put himself on the line to ask.
Sid stepped up. “Move,” he said to Bylsma, who gave him a shocked look but got out of the way, and then Geno was glaring down at him, splotchy and dripping sweat, haloed in blue light. Sid didn’t know what to do.
“What, Sid,” Geno snapped, and Sid grabbed Geno’s sweater to yank him down and slapped him hard across the face.
His palm made a clear loud crack as it struck Geno’s cheek. The sound silenced the dressing room chatter. He could see everyone turning to stare, but he didn’t look away from Geno, the red mark blooming across his cheekbone, his stunned open mouth. As Sid watched, Geno lifted a shaky hand and touched his fingertips right where Sid had hit him.
The blue light flared and shrank in again. Sid held Geno’s gaze. He was shaking, too. He had never hit anyone off the ice, and hockey fights were more grappling and inexpert punches than anything else. It had certainly never been like this, Geno flushed and dazed, his magic coiled so tight that even Sid could feel it.
He slapped Geno again, in the same place, and Geno made a noise that heated Sid’s blood.
“I expect better of you,” Sid said.
Geno stared at him for a moment longer, and then he abruptly turned and left the room.
“There’s our captain,” Bylsma said into the ensuing silence.
Sid didn’t want to hear it. He went back up to the press box.
Geno was in peak form for the rest of the game. His magic glowed bright around him but clung close to his skin. He played as well as he had all season: tight, perfectly controlled, and he scored the goal in the last minutes of the third that took them to overtime. Sid couldn’t stop thinking about the look on his face the second time Sid had hit him, like he was moments away from sliding to the floor and begging Sid to do it again.
+ + +
He dithered all afternoon, hoping that Geno might text him, which he knew was about as likely as snowfall in July. They were both cowards, but Geno was way worse. He used to hide from Therrien in the washroom if Therrien was mad at him, which had happened a lot during Geno’s first couple of years on the team, when he never knew what Therrien was yelling at him on the ice and tended to do whatever the fuck he wanted instead. Sid didn’t ever expect him to broach uncomfortable topics.
Finally he texted Geno—grumpy about it, because it was Geno’s fucking magic and Geno’s responsibility. Can we talk?
Geno replied right away, which meant he had probably been dithering over his own phone and was feeling guilty. ok tomorrow
Sid frowned at his phone. He wanted to talk today, now, not tomorrow at the rink after skate, with so many other people around. He kept thinking about the way Geno had reacted when Sid slapped him. That didn’t feel like a conversation they should have in public.
But if that was what Geno wanted, well—he was trying to keep those lines in place, maybe.
Sid didn’t skate with the team the next morning. His neck was hurting a little, and he had felt dizzy the night before; he skated alone with Kadar and did some work in the gym while the rest of the guys were on the ice. He stayed on the mats for a long time after, stretching his hamstrings and wondering what was going to happen, what Geno was going to say. He had asked Sid to be like Gonch for him, but Gonch had never hit him, as far as Sid knew, and definitely hadn’t ever produced that open-mouthed sex look. Because that was what it had been. Sid could lie to himself about a lot of things, but he wasn’t blind.
He hid out there for long enough that Geno came to find him, dressed in his street clothes, his hair fuzzy from being towel-dried. Sid straightened up from a stretch and saw Geno watching him from the doorway of the weight room and went hot, not flushing but just hot.
Geno came over and toed at the edge of the mat. “We talk?”
“Yeah,” Sid said. He stretched his legs in front of him and sat tall, drawing his shoulder blades back and down. They should go somewhere else, maybe, somewhere more private, but Geno sat down on the mat then, facing Sid, his legs crossed beneath him, and Sid didn’t care enough to protest.
“We do again,” Geno said. “Tonight. Okay?”
“Before the game,” Sid said, an unnecessary clarification, but there was blue light on Geno’s hands and he didn’t know what to think.
“Yes,” Geno said. His expression was calm. It was just hockey, then: just magic. “I know you say you don’t want, but—it’s not say things, so. Maybe it’s okay.”
Hitting Geno was nothing at all like telling him that his hockey was garbage. It was worse, but not in a way that Sid felt comfortable discussing. “Fine. We’ll give it a shot.”
+ + +
Sid’s mouth was dry. He was wearing a suit, and Geno was wearing his base layers, his stretchy skin-tight leggings and an old Bauer shirt that draped softly over his shoulders. Sid felt hot again, and prickling everywhere, a feeling he associated with someone’s magic flaring, although Geno wasn’t blue anywhere that he could see.
“You want me to, uh. Do it?” he asked.
“Yes,” Geno said, and lifted his chin.
Before, Sid had been acting on instinct and adrenaline. Geno had been yelling and furious, about to do whatever came after blowing over, some new and terrifying level of magic Sid hadn’t ever witnessed. Hitting him had been Sid’s first reaction to snap him out of it. But now, with Geno looking at him calmly, it felt—it didn’t feel like magic, or hockey. They had left the dressing room, and Geno had locked the door. Surely it had to mean something.
He took a breath, raised his hand, and cracked Geno hard across his cheek.
Geno exhaled sharply, like it had burst from him. A hot flush spread in the wake of Sid’s hand. This time Geno wasn’t trying to tone down his reaction for the locker room, and it was all there on his face: his wide eyes and open mouth, his magic fluorescing along his skin. He turned his head slightly, offering his other cheek.
Sid hit him again, and then for good measure he said, “Don’t let me down tonight.”
“No,” Geno said. He squirmed in his seat. “Sid, please. Again.”
Sid risked a glance, and Geno was half-hard, a fat bulge in his leggings. Sid didn’t feel capable of processing that. He hit Geno again. His palm stung. He rubbed it against his trousers and said, “That’s enough.”
“Okay,” Geno said. His tongue rolled over his bottom lip. He had that dazed blank look again. Sid forcibly dragged his gaze away from Geno’s soft flush and the swell of his dick. He went over and unlocked the door.
Geno played impeccably that night. There was a fight in the second, but Geno wasn’t involved. He tallied three points, and Sid watched from the press box and felt his stomach twist with dread and anticipation. He knew what he would be doing now before every single game.
+ + +
“Okay, hit me but don’t say, we test,” Geno said.
“I was thinking we could try it the other way around,” Sid said. Geno rolled his eyes, which annoyed the shit out of Sid, because what on earth made Geno think the critical element was the slapping? Nobody had ever hit him before; Gonch had kept him in check for years, if Geno was to be believed, simply by expressing mild disapproval. If they were going to figure out what was going on, they might as well start with the simplest explanation. That was just basic science.
He was still annoyed that night when he took Geno aside before warmups, closed up in some half-empty storage room that smelled faintly of mildew. For a moment, he considered hitting Geno after all, to hear the soft noise he would make and watch him get hard.
Christ. He needed this experiment to work, because the whole thing was already getting severely out of hand.
“Okay,” he said. Geno watched him, eyebrows raised, a skeptical expression on his face, like he didn’t think Sid would be able to do it. Sid’s irritation was itchy under his skin. He said, “I don’t think you can get through this game without blowing over. You don’t have the self-control. You’ve been letting down the team all season, and I know you aren’t good enough to stop now.”
Geno’s chin jutted out. He looked mad, and that was a good sign; that was Sid’s goal, and there was no reason to feel guilty about saying those things to Geno. Sid bit down on the impulse to apologize and tell Geno he didn’t mean any of it.
“I show you,” Geno said. “I don’t blow over.”
And he didn’t, but he didn’t play great, either, aside from scoring during the shootout.
“See,” Geno said, when Sid went down to the locker room after the game. He was scowling as he unlaced his skates. “It’s not help.”
“I mean, you didn’t blow over,” Sid said. “So I think it worked.”
Geno stubbornly shook his head, still bent over. “No. I don’t feel any magic. It’s not charge me.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Sid said, exasperated. “I said exactly the same shit you told me Gonch used to say. And that worked for years. So what the fuck am I doing differently?”
Geno pulled off his skates and started removing the tape from his socks. “It’s because I don’t believe. I know you don’t think I let team down.”
“Well then what the fuck am I supposed to do?” Sid asked, loudly enough that Staalsy finally pretended he wasn’t eavesdropping and said, “Can you guys do this later? I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“You mind business, Jordy,” Geno said, and Sid left and went to wait in the lounge until everyone was ready to board the bus to the airport.
+ + +
He knew he was doomed for sure when Bylsma pulled him aside after a team meeting the day after they got back from St. Louis and said, “Evgeni told me you’re helping him out with his magic situation.”
Right. Helping. “Guess so,” Sid said.
“Well. Keep it up,” Bylsma said. “He looked good the last couple of games.”
“Sure,” Sid said, and succumbed to his fucking fate.
+ + +
Well, maybe he’d been shooting on the wrong side all along, because the slapping was clearly a sex thing. Geno thought he needed to be angry, but maybe he needed to be turned on—but then how had Gonch kept him going for so many years? There definitely wasn’t anything sexual going on there.
He thought about what Geno had told him about what Gonch used to say—how Gonch had focused on the other team, that they were trying to prevent Geno from scoring. Sid had tried to prick Geno’s ego, to make him feel like he had something to prove, but maybe that was the wrong approach.
The answer was so simple and obvious that Sid couldn’t believe nobody had figured it out before. Geno didn’t need to be angry—he needed to be frustrated. The slapping worked because—well, sexual frustration was still frustration. He played like a madman if he went out on the ice with his dick hard in his shorts because he got charged up from being thwarted.
Sid watched the All Star Game his hotel room in LA and glowed with the satisfaction of solving the mystery known as Evgeni Malkin. He would tell Geno and Bylsma what he’d figured out and wash his hands of the whole thing.
+ + +
He wouldn’t even look at Sid while they talked about it, too focused on making himself a post-practice snack. “What you know about magic? You don’t have, you don’t know.”
“I’m just here to service you, I guess,” Sid said dryly, and then flushed painfully hot. Service. God.
Geno either didn’t understand the implication or chose to ignore it. He smeared a thick layer of mayo on a slice of bread and then licked the knife, a soft pink flash of tongue. “You don’t like to do, it’s okay.” He glanced at Sid, his expression disarmingly vulnerable. “Coach is help me. And Don Cherry.”
If he was trying to make Sid feel guilty, it was working. “It’s fine. I can do it.”
“Sid,” Geno said. He put down the knife and cautiously touched his fingers to the back of Sid’s neck. “You get better now?”
“Hope so,” Sid said. He had a soft tissue injury—maybe not a second concussion at all. The doctor in LA had given him a cortisone shot to reduce the swelling, and he was already, tentatively, feeling better. But he wasn’t going to say that aloud and jinx it.
Geno squeezed him gently, and Sid fought the shudder that wanted to run all the way down his backbone. “Team needs you. We miss captain. Good if you come back soon. But don’t hurry.”
“I don’t think anyone could accuse me of rushing,” Sid said. Geno knew very well what had been said about him around the league and in the media.
Geno grinned and took his hand away. “I know. You on vacation.” He picked up his knife again.
Sid was having trouble keeping track of the different facets of his relationship with Geno. There was the teasing camaraderie that had always been there, their oldest method of relating to each other. And then there was a quiet, tender side to Geno: the guy who had watched TV with Sid all through the worst of his concussion, and touched his neck just now with infinite care. But now Sid also had to contend with the Geno who parted his thighs to let Sid see his erection, like that was any kind of reasonable thing to do. He didn’t know where the lines were, and it was all bleeding together in his head into a confused muddle of lust and longing. He couldn’t see any clear way out.
+ + +
Geno spun a chair around and sat. Sid stepped in until Geno’s spread knees bracketed his own. The warmth of Geno’s body was overwhelming. He had that prickly feeling of unseen magic.
“The Leafs are gonna try to shut you down,” he said. “They won’t let you score at all. Phaneuf’s gonna be all over your ass the entire time.”
Geno made an incredibly skeptical face, his mouth pursed in a tight dubious knot. “I don’t care about Phaneuf.”
“Okay, fuck,” Sid said, “why aren’t you—why isn’t this working?” He took a step back, away from the sprawl of Geno’s thighs.
“You don’t mean,” Geno said.
“So the fuck what? I’m sure Gonch didn’t mean it either. He loves you,” and then Sid broke off abruptly, feeling like he had said too much.
“You not Gonch,” Geno said, slouched casually in his chair, smirking a little now, like any of this was funny. Sid remembered Geno’s sweet hopefulness at the beginning of the season, when he had asked Sid for help, and wondered where that had gone.
“You’re right,” he said. His stomach was tight with something that felt a lot like anger. He moved in again and grabbed a fistful of Geno’s hair with his left hand, right at the scalp, and tugged. Geno’s head dropped back and his mouth dropped open. Sid’s heart was racing. He said, “This is what you want?”
Geno made a low noise and spread his legs wider. Sid refused to look. He tugged Geno’s hair again. “Tell me.”
“Sid,” Geno said, which was good enough. Sid raised his free hand and hit Geno across the face.
Geno couldn’t move with the blow, held in place by Sid’s hand in his hair. He jolted when Sid’s palm made contact and let out a pained groan.
“Why do you like this,” Sid bit out, rawly furious about everything, how many stupid daydreams he’d indulged in, how many months they’d been fruitlessly dancing around each other, how he’d turned Geno on for the first time in the locker room while their entire team watched, and now it was something furtive they did behind a locked door, for hockey. He wanted to hit the ejection button on the whole mess of it, but Geno was counting on him, and the team was counting on Geno. Sid would do his duty.
Geno’s eyes fluttered open. “I don’t know,” he said, and somehow that made it even worse, that Geno had maybe had no idea he liked this until Sid lost his temper and smacked him. He moved his head a little, testing Sid’s grip. “You look so mad, like captain. You mad I don’t play right, don’t do best for team. You make me be good.”
“You are, though,” Sid said. He released Geno and moved back, a little shaken. “Come on, G. You know how you’re playing this year.”
Geno looked at him, a long, searching look, like he was peering through every layer of bullshit Sid used to conceal what he was really thinking. Unable to resist, Sid touched Geno’s cheek, where a faint red mark lingered. Beneath Sid’s hand, Geno’s face flooded with hot blood.
“I thought this would be different,” Sid said quietly. They had never acknowledged those couple of nights last spring when they ended up lying on the sofa together, Sid’s aching head pillowed on Geno’s shoulder. But they texted a lot over the summer, far more than they ever had in previous years, and Sid had thought they were headed somewhere together, maybe. But instead they ended up here, for magic, for hockey, and that was more important than anything else. That Geno was able to play.
“What?” Geno said, his brow wrinkling, and Sid shook his head, denying everything, and hit Geno again.
+ + +
His concussion had made him—well, confront his own mortality, kind of. He had some dark days when he had wondered if he would ever play hockey again. Life was so fleeting. He had been focused solely on hockey for so long, but there was more to life than going to practice and hitting Giant Eagle at off hours to avoid getting stopped for a million autographs. He had promised himself that if he got through it, he would start doing some of the stuff he wanted to do: going out for dinner whenever he felt like it, traveling, maybe kissing Geno, who had admitted to him—whispering it, like he was half-hoping Sid wouldn’t hear—that he’d screwed a guy in Moscow the summer before and liked it.
All of his sweet thoughts about it were painfully chaste in retrospect. He had no path back to those daydreams now. Only his own sticky hand in a hotel room, and a faint aura of shame hanging around him, vaporous as Geno’s magic.
+ + +
Geno perched on top of the desk and looked at Sid expectantly. “We do, hurry up,” he said, blithe and bullying: just another part of his pre-game routine, slotted in between his snack and two-touch. One more thing to check off the list.
Resentment slithered through Sid’s gut. He shoved it down. He never should have gotten involved in the first place. It was his own fault for thinking he could help. And he could: he was. But it was going to tear him apart.
“Get on your knees,” he said.
He watched his words sink down through Geno’s skin: his eyes widening, a slight flush spreading across his cheeks. Geno drew a ragged breath and said, “My knee—”
Sid shrugged out of his suit jacket and folded it up and dropped it on the floor. “Just for a minute.”
Geno licked his lips, and Sid let himself watch the motion. He was warm and fizzing, like tiny bubbles of carbonation in a shaken-up bottle of pop. Slowly, Geno slid from the desk and knelt on the floor, his bad knee cushioned by Sid’s jacket. The sight of him there, his head bent, brown hair curling at his nape where it had gotten long, made Sid feel unsteady on his feet.
He put a hand in Geno’s hair. It was soft and dry, a little frizzy. He worked his fingers through, following the curve of Geno’s skull down toward his ear. His feelings for Geno were a second ribcage in his chest, invisibly overlying his bones, inflexible as metal, holding in all the things he wanted and couldn’t have.
Geno made a soft noise as Sid’s fingers trailed down the spine of his ear to the warm, tender skin of his earlobe. He looked up, and his mouth was so red and open. “Sid—”
“Okay,” Sid said, and slapped him a few times, a little sick with how much he enjoyed the way Geno went all breathless and loose. When Geno stood up, he was visibly hard in his compression shorts, and Sid stared for a moment or two too long before he forced himself to look away.
“Stay in here until you cool off,” he said. “You can’t go walking around like that.”
“Thanks, Sid,” Geno said quietly.
Sid watched that game from the press box, as usual, eating greasy fries and watching the boring mess of a game unfold on the ice. The defense from both teams kept all the action stifled; only a single goal was scored, by the Leafs, late in the third. Geno took a holding penalty, which Sid couldn’t be too mad about; it happened. But there was no sign of his magic, and he was pretty quiet for most of the game.
It didn’t mean much. Magic wasn’t a guarantee of anything. It helped out, but most of what happened on the ice was the interaction between body and stick and physics. Even Flower, with all his abundant magic, still lost games. Sid wasn’t off the hook yet.
+ + +
Geno looked a little fuzzy around the edges already just from being manhandled. Sid felt suddenly, fiercely protective of him. He still wasn’t happy about the situation in any way, but he also wanted to keep Geno safe and hidden so that nobody else would see him like this, pink and sweet, waiting for Sid to take care of him.
He pushed forward, pressing Geno firmly into the wall, and slid one leg between Geno’s thighs. “Come on,” he said. He tucked his face into Geno’s neck and breathed in the smell of him, the same arena soap Sid had used that morning after skate. Geno’s pulse fluttered against his mouth. He got his hands on Geno’s hips and tugged him down, grinding his crotch against Sid’s thigh.
Geno exhaled slowly. “Like this?”
“I don’t think you actually need to be angry,” Sid said against Geno’s hot skin. “I don’t think you need me to hit you, either.” He rocked his thigh against Geno’s dick, no longer totally soft. “I think I can get you charged up like this and you’ll go out there and win.”
Geno’s hands settled on his shoulders. His fingertips dug in and released. “You think.”
“We can try it,” Sid said. He was a little fuzzy himself from Geno’s long warm body all against his and Geno starting to tentatively grind down onto his thigh. “Science, right?”
Geno didn’t respond in words, but he dropped his head back against the wall and let Sid suck on his neck and get him worked up and panting, his erection hot against Sid’s leg. It was both the best and worst thing that had ever happened to Sid. He lost himself in the tiny sounds Geno made as they moved together and hoped Geno wouldn’t notice or comment on how Sid was getting hard, too.
He let it go on for longer than he probably needed to. When he finally dragged himself away, Geno stayed where he was for a moment, head back, eyes closed. Sid took the opportunity to adjust himself in his trousers and drink in the sight of Geno’s flush and wet mouth, and—ashamed of himself but not enough to stop—the outline of his dick.
“I’m gonna,” he said, thumbing back toward the main hallway, even though Geno wasn’t looking at him.
Geno opened his eyes at last. “Thank you, Sid,” he said, low and sincere.
Sid thought about that a lot, that night in his hotel room in Newark, and in Montreal, and back home for a week, through some shitty games and some great ones: Geno’s soft eyes and hard dick as he thanked Sid so sweetly.
+ + +
He experimented. Geno would let him do anything, or at least everything that Sid tried, everything he wanted to do. In Newark, he backed Geno against a wall again and groped him through his leggings, nosing at his ear and listening to his unsteady breathing as he hardened against Sid’s palm. He couldn’t meet Geno’s eyes after, but Geno seemed to have equal trouble meeting his. He did it again in Montreal and thought the whole time about sliding his hand inside Geno’s leggings, curling his hand around Geno’s dick and feeling the soft heat of his skin and the rough hair at his groin, the soft wrinkled weight of his balls.
“You’re being so good,” he whispered against Geno’s neck, and Geno sucked in a harsh breath and clutched at him, his cock twitching in Sid’s hand.
Geno liked to kneel with his hands behind his back, and he liked to suck on Sid’s fingers, and he loved to do what Sid told him to and listen to Sid tell him how well he had done it. Sid stuck to the basics when they were on the road, because it was hard to know ahead of time how much privacy they would have, but at home, behind a door that locked, Sid could do anything, all the stuff he thought about while he was falling asleep at night, waiting for the next game.
He bent Geno over the conference table and tugged his shorts down halfway over the curve of his ass, and spanked him with the open flat of his hand until Geno’s skin was flushed a bright, painful pink. “Sid, please, please,” Geno kept panting into his folded arms, beginning for nothing. Sid was already giving him everything.
Geno got a hat trick that night, his third in three months.
Before the next game, Geno dragged him into the conference room and started shoving down his leggings before Sid had even locked the door. “We do again, like last time.”
Sid had been thinking about it constantly for the last three days, distracted during his workouts, distracted when he had dinner with Duper and his family. He knew exactly how he wanted to do it.
He sat on the floor with Geno over his lap, which he realized almost immediately was a terrible idea, because Geno would be able to feel him getting hard. But Geno didn’t say anything about it, or maybe didn’t even notice, too busy rubbing his own erection against Sid’s thigh while Sid spanked him over and over until his hand hurt.
“Please, please,” Geno kept saying, until Sid finally lost his patience, too turned on and miserable to cope with Geno begging him like that, and said, “Please what?”
Geno pushed his hard-on into Sid’s thigh and didn’t respond. Sid, irrationally furious, snapped the waistband of Geno’s leggings against his upper thighs and experienced a fierce stab of satisfaction when Geno yelped and twitched in his lap.
Geno looked almost postcoital when they were done, even though he was still hard. “You did good,” Sid said begrudgingly, because that was their routine now, and Geno breathed, “Thank you, Sid.”
Sid had to dial it back. He was going to take it too far and—try to finger Geno, or something. None of this was really about sex, or at least not about Sid. He was there to provoke certain responses from Geno and get him to perform a certain way on the ice. The things he wanted were incredibly relevant to him but not at all relevant to Geno. For his own sake, he needed to keep things at least somewhat professional.
He stuck to slapping after that: making Geno kneel and ask for it and thank him afterward. He would get through this season and then he would tell Geno he needed to figure out something else over the summer. Watching porn would probably do it, although he knew Geno would sulk about it; he wanted the personal touch. But it was making Sid feel terrible, and he wasn’t enough of a martyr to suffer endlessly, even for the team’s sake. Even for Geno’s.
+ + +
“Fine,” Sid said.
“Great, great,” Bylsma said, happy to take Sid at his word, and nobody else on the coaching staff asked him about it. Geno was playing great. Everything was fine.
Sid wasn’t fine. He didn’t want to talk about what he and Geno were doing, but it was chewing him up inside, so close to what he wanted but also nothing at all like what he really wanted.
On their next road trip, he went to Flower’s room after they arrived at the hotel, before they all went out for dinner. Flower wasn’t the best at talking about feelings, but he knew magic, and that was what Sid needed most of all: someone to tell him he wasn’t irrevocably screwing up. He hoped he wasn’t screwing up.
Flower answered the door wearing a nice shirt for going out and his boxers, so Sid had at least half an hour before Flower started getting anxious about dinner. “You got a few minutes?” Sid asked.
“For you? Never,” Flower said, but he stepped aside to let Sid into the room.
Voky wasn’t there, which spared Sid the trouble of having to kick him out. He flopped down on Flower’s bed and stared at the ceiling, hoping the right words would appear there that would help him ask Flower what he needed without humiliating himself completely.
Flower started rustling around with something on the desk. “You’re going out with us?”
“Yeah,” Sid said. He had to eat, and he had decided to worry less about people asking him for autographs and bothering the other guys. They always said they didn’t mind, and he was going to start believing them. He drew in a breath. “Can I ask you something about magic?”
Flower eyed him. He never wanted to talk about his magic. “This is about Geno?”
“I mean, yeah,” Sid said. “Obviously.”
Flower came and sat beside him on the bed. “He hasn’t been blowing over so much,” he said tentatively.
“Yeah. Like, it’s working. But.” Sid stared fixedly at the ceiling so he wouldn’t have to look at Flower’s face. “It’s starting to get kind of weird.” Well, it had been weird since day one.
“Gonch didn’t mind,” Flower said.
What Gonch had done with Geno was categorically different than what Sid was doing, but he didn’t want to tell Flower the specifics. He didn’t want anyone else to know how Geno was with him, behind that locked door. “Will it mess him up if I stop?”
“Well. Not permanently,” Flower said. “But Sid, the season he’s having—”
“I know,” Sid said. “Okay. You’re right.” His eyes felt hot. He covered his face with his hands, suddenly, humiliatingly convinced that he was going to start crying. “Fuck.”
“Sid, what’s going on?” Flower set a tentative hand on Sid’s shoulder. He didn’t want to talk about it any more than Sid did, but he would make the right noises and do his best. He was a good friend.
“It’s fine,” Sid said to his hands. “Sorry. I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Okay,” Flower said. He patted Sid a few times and then took his hand away. “You’re helping him a lot, you know. I can tell from how his magic feels.”
“Yeah,” Sid said. He couldn’t feel Geno’s magic the way Flower could, but he could tell the difference in the way Geno looked on the ice, and the way he acted in the dressing room: cheerful, obnoxious. He was thriving on Sid touching him and refusing to let him come, and under other circumstances Sid would have been thrilled without reservation.
The season was almost over. Just a few more months. He could hold out that long. It wasn’t a big deal.
+ + +
“Please what?” Sid said.
“Let me,” Geno said, and he turned his head and mouthed at Sid’s hard-on through his trousers.
A wave of heat flooded Sid’s body, and then receded and left him cold and faintly nauseated. “Stop it,” he said. He shoved Geno away and took a stumbling step backward.
Geno frowned up at him, brow furrowed, looking hurt. Sid wanted to slap him again and wipe that expression from his face. “Sid—”
“I can’t keep doing this,” Sid said. “Not if you’re gonna—I think we should stop.”
“What?” Geno said. He scrambled to his feet and reached out, looking even more hurt when Sid flinched back.
“This is getting kind of weird for me,” Sid said. “I think we should, like. Set some limits.”
“Okay,” Geno said cautiously. He sidled closer, and this time Sid let him. “Sorry for, ah.”
“It’s fine,” Sid said. “Forget it. You’ve got a game to play.”
“Sid,” Geno said. He caught Sid’s hand and squeezed urgently. “Please let’s talk. You come to my house, okay? After game.”
Sid really, really did not want to talk about it. “We don’t need to. It’s fine.”
“Please,” Geno said, still gripping Sid’s hand. “I make food. We eat and talk. Okay?”
“Fine,” Sid said, mostly so Geno would let go of him and let him leave the room.
Geno had an assist that night but no goals. Sid didn’t know what it meant. Maybe it didn’t mean anything.
+ + +
Geno was in the kitchen, just as he had imagined, eating leftovers straight out of the container. Whatever he was eating looked congealed in a way that made Sid feel pretty certain he hadn’t bothered to reheat it. When Sid came into the room, he lifted his fork in a little wave.
“You hungry?” Geno asked.
“Not for that,” Sid said. “I’ll make a sandwich.”
Geno shrugged in the way he had that meant suit yourself. Sid knew where all the sandwich fixings were; he’d made a lot of sandwiches for Geno when his knee was still bad enough that he went grimly silent whenever he had to get up, and later, too, when his knee was better enough that he whined about how much pain he was in until Sid crumbled and got him a snack.
He made himself turkey on rye with whole-grain mustard and joined Geno at the table. They ate in silence, Geno scraping up the last bits of his meal—it looked like some kind of casserole—and Sid trying not to dribble tomato juice on himself. On the TV, Don Cherry got red in the face over the Stars. He hadn’t had much to say about Geno lately, at least.
Geno had asked to talk, but he just kept watching the TV and poking around in his Tupperware without giving any signs of initiating a conversation. Sid’s throat tightened with frustration. Geno would sit there and look cute and wait for Sid to do the heavy lifting, like always. He wanted to go home and go to bed.
But Geno finally put his fork down then and said, “Sid, what’s go on with you?”
“Nothing,” Sid said. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine,” Geno said. “You upset. You don’t want me to touch you, okay, fine. But I think it’s more.”
Sid abandoned the uneaten half of his sandwich. He wasn’t all that hungry anyway. He pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt so he could hide from Geno a little without obviously hiding. This had been going on for way too long: almost a year of searching for hidden meaning in each of Geno’s smiles.
“Do you remember—last spring,” he said. “When you told me you like guys.”
“Yes,” Geno said, eyeing Sid. He folded his arms across his chest.
“I thought you told me that for a reason,” Sid said. “I hoped you did. I’ve been hoping ever since, I guess. So it sucks to be doing all this stuff with you now when it’s just for hockey, and I wish—I wish that it was for real.”
He swallowed and stared down at his hands, his face burning. Getting shot down always sucked. He would be embarrassed for a week and sit at the other end of the table from Geno during team meals, and then they would both get over it. It was fine.
Geno’s chair scraped back. Carefully, deliberately, he stood up and then went to his knees on the floor at Sid’s feet. As Sid watched, heart in his throat, Geno clasped his hands behind his back and lifted his chin. “I tell you for a reason,” Geno said.
Sid’s hand wasn’t quite steady as he cupped Geno’s cheek. “This is terrible for your knee.”
“I don’t care,” Geno said. His eyes were fixed on Sid’s face, wide and dark. “I hope so long that you want with me. But you don’t say, so I think you don’t want.”
“I didn’t know if you were interested,” Sid said. He rubbed his thumb over Geno’s cheekbone and felt his stomach swoop around wildly. “Just because you like guys doesn’t mean you like me.”
Geno’s hands slid up Sid’s thighs. “Stay tonight. Sleep with me. I miss you here, eat my food, erase my DVR—”
“That only happened once,” Sid said. Maybe he had needed all the months of daydreaming to work himself up to saying something to Geno for real, but he was ready now, and there was no hesitation in Geno’s face, either. Only a sweet joy.
“It’s okay, I know you not perfect,” Geno said. “Like you best anyway.”
“I like you best, too,” Sid said, and he slid out of his chair and into Geno’s arms.
+ + +
“No,” Geno said. He hitched his thigh up over Sid’s hips and kept kissing.
“What about your magic?” Sid said, still fuzzy, and then it occurred to him that they could do it here, in private, where he could get Geno naked. And then do it again at the rink if they needed to. He wasn’t opposed.
He stripped Geno out of his shorts, kissing his soft inner thighs and the scar on his knee, and got him kneeling up and holding onto the headboard. He found lube in Geno’s bedside table and worked him open with two fingers, just the way he had imagined, kissing Geno’s back and shoulders as he twitched and groaned. Geno was hot and soft and responsive and he started begging almost right away, “Please, please, Sid, please,” until Sid finally smacked his hip with his free hand and said, “I thought you were gonna be good for me,” and Geno went quiet and shivery.
He thought about fucking Geno—it would be so easy to slide right in—but Geno was making low hurt noises every time Sid pushed his fingers in, and he wasn’t sure if Geno would be able to hold out. He eased Geno over onto his back and took in his sweaty face and his leaking cock, painfully hard, drawn tight against his belly. It was time to stop.
“Hey,” he said. He lay down and pulled Geno into his arms. Geno rolled into him immediately, hiding his face in Sid’s neck and clinging to him, shaking slightly. “That was really good, G. You did a great job.”
He kissed Geno’s forehead and stroked his back until Geno calmed down a little and turned onto his back again and stretched, loose and smiling. He was still half-hard.
“Come here,” Geno said, tugging at Sid’s hands until Sid sat on his hips and Geno could slide a hand into Sid’s briefs and curl around his dick.
“You don’t have to,” Sid said. They hadn’t gone further than some heated making out. He wasn’t sure how he felt about turning their weird hockey sex thing into actual sex.
“Please, I want,” Geno said. He tugged down the waistband of Sid’s briefs to bare his dick. Sid was pretty worked up himself, and it didn’t take him long, rocking into Geno’s fist and watching his face, as eager and dazed as when Sid hit him.
“Lick it clean,” Sid told him, after he came all over Geno’s hand, and Geno did, hungrily, sucking on his fingers and moaning, maybe partly for show, but it was pretty deadly anyway.
“I can’t believe you,” Sid told him, and Geno grinned around his fingers, absolutely shameless, and grinned against Sid’s mouth when Sid bent to kiss him.
Geno didn’t make it onto the score sheet that night at all, but that was okay. They could keep experimenting.
+ + +
“Is this gonna mess up your game?” he asked.
Geno considered. “Maybe day before game we shouldn’t,” he said. “Then I’m not mad during game.”
“That’s the rest of the season, then,” Sid said, maybe not as disappointed about it as he should have been. Well, whatever: he got off on it, and so did Geno, and that was all that mattered. “We don’t have more than a day off between games until the playoffs start.”
Geno licked his lips. “You don’t let me come?”
It was less than a month. And from the look on Geno’s face, he liked the idea as much as Sid did. “Win the Art Ross,” he said. “And then I’ll get you off.”
Geno shifted on the bed and spread his thighs, showing Sid his hard dick. “You still get off, though.”
“God, will I ever,” Sid said, and lay back down in Geno’s arms.
Now that he knew it was a magic thing and a hockey thing but also a sex thing and a relationship thing, and probably hopefully eventually a love thing, Sid could just himself enjoy it, all of the dumb weird shit he and Geno liked. He made Geno kneel for him at home sometimes, only for a few minutes at once, because even with a pillow he was still worried about Geno’s knee; but even a short period could make Geno either smiley and blissed out or horny and frantic, and Sid was thrilled by either outcome. When he pushed Geno against a wall before a game, he could stick his hand inside Geno’s leggings, like he had fantasized about, and jerk him off until he was squirming and wordless, and then lick Geno’s pre-come from his fingers.
Maybe Geno got himself off sometimes when he was alone, but he never came with Sid. Sid had never had sex like this with anyone else, and he knew it was kind of weird, but he was totally unable to give a fuck. Geno liked to be pulled off Sid’s dick mid-blowjob and smacked a few times, and he liked Sid to ride him and pinch his nipples and refuse to let him come. All of it was so good that Sid felt constantly aroused, overheated and like his body was melting out of every orifice, desperate for the next time he could get Geno alone. And Geno had started whistling at the rink all the time and he didn’t blow over once, so Sid didn’t see any reason to stop.
He still wasn’t in the lineup, but even that didn’t seem so bad when he woke up most mornings to Geno murmuring things to him in Russian that he thought from the tone were probably wonderfully embarrassing.
And then, finally, he was back in, against the Rangers, and he got two points, and Geno blew him in a supply closet after the game while Sid bit down on his own hand to keep from crying out, both of them still sweaty in their base layers, and Geno kissed him afterward and said, “You don’t go out again, okay? I miss play with you.”
“I don’t plan to,” Sid said. “I missed playing hockey. I missed playing with you.”
“I come from Russia for you,” Geno said, like it was just a simple fact. Sid pushed his face into Geno’s neck and held on.
+ + +
But they honored their deal. Sid waited until the very last game of the regular season—a gratifying win at home against the Flyers, with a goal and an assist for both of them. Geno was tense and quiet in the dressing room after the game, intently stripping off his pads and ignoring all of Nealer’s chirping about it.
“Lighten up, G, we won!” Staalsy called, and tossed a ball of tape at Geno’s head. Geno batted it away without looking.
Sid put his head down and focused on getting out of his own gear.
He had to talk to the press for a while; by the time he was done with that, Geno was gone. But Sid knew where he would be. He went down the hall to their conference room, and when he saw that the blinds were lowered, the arousal that had been simmering in his gut since the final horn sounded abruptly tipped over into a full rolling boil.
He opened the door. Geno was perched on the edge of the conference table, heavy-lidded, his legs spread, his leggings clinging to the thick line of his erection.
“Take so long,” Geno said.
“Sorry,” Sid said automatically, even though he’d come as soon as he could and Geno knew it. He had to know how much Sid wanted him, both the sex parts and the rest of it, going over to Geno’s house whenever he wanted to watch TV in his stupid Penguins recliners and eat his freezer food and sleep in his bed. He said, “This is already the best part of my life, you know. Being with you.”
Geno looked sly. “Better than hockey?”
“Yeah,” Sid said, and then Geno looked like he might cry, and Sid only wanted that if he was crying while he begged Sid to let him come. He locked the door. “G—”
“Shut up, come here,” Geno said, leaning back on his hands and spreading his legs even wider, until Sid could see the outline of his balls and the curve of his ass against the table.
They didn’t manage to get undressed at all. Sid kissed Geno until his mouth was swollen and tender and Geno was wrapped around him like a vine, tugging at his hair and making impatient sounds, rubbing himself against Sid as much as he could. Sid pushed him back onto the table and he meant to at least get their pants down, he really did, but Geno started moaning right off the bat, his legs around Sid’s waist, grinding up against him and making the overwhelmed sobbing noises that got under Sid’s skin every time without fail. Geno ran the show and he was already learning to manipulate Sid into doing what he wanted, and Sid gave in and sucked on Geno’s neck and let Geno move beneath him until he was begging between every gasping breath, “Please, please, please—”
“You can,” Sid told him. “You can come,” and Geno arched beneath him and shook and groaned, making a mess inside his leggings.
Sid tugged him down into one of the task chairs and pulled down his leggings and licked him clean, his nose filled with the heavy scents of sweat and come. Geno flinched with every pass of Sid's tongue and he was hard again by the time Sid was finished.
"Tell me what you want," Sid said. He licked a long stripe up the underside of Geno's dick. When he glanced up, Geno was staring at him with his mouth hanging open. Sid loved a captive audience. "You've been so good. I'll do anything you want."
"I win Art Ross," Geno said, like he thought Sid needed a reminder.
"I know you did, G," Sid said. He opened his mouth and gently sucked on the head of Geno's dick, soft and wet, teasing at the slit with his tongue. When he pulled off, Geno looked even glassier. "You want a blowjob?"
Geno swallowed thickly. His hands cupped Sid's head. "Yes, okay."
"Ask me nicely," Sid said, and Geno groaned and said, "Sid, please, please," and Sid sucked him off and touched himself and and listened to Geno moaning shamelessly and made a mess in his own pants when Geno came in his mouth.
“Oh, God,” Geno said to the ceiling, draped in the chair like he was made out of rubber.
Sid sat up and wiped his mouth. Geno looked like—well, like he had played twenty minutes and then come twice. Everywhere that Sid could see bare skin, Geno was glowing blue. He couldn’t wait to take Geno home and see what else he could do to make him shine.
“If you can’t walk, I can probably roll you right out to your car in that chair,” Sid said. He was only mostly joking.
Geno touched Sid's cheek. His expression was warm with tenderness and made Sid's heart clench happily in his chest. “Stay with me,” Geno said. “Spend tonight.”
There was nothing Sid wanted more. “We’ll get brunch in the morning,” he said, and watched Geno light up, and then he kissed Geno’s bare hip and tucked him back into his leggings and climbed to his feet.